A former awning factory on Cleveland’s west side is about to start producing something altogether different: art.
Out of an old industrial space with soaring high ceilings, the Cleveland Museum of Art has fashioned a new Community Arts Center, a vibrant place for residents of the Clark-Fulton neighborhood to gather, learn, create, and share.
“It’s meant to be a place that’s active and welcoming,” said Jennifer DePrizio, the museum’s interim director of public and academic engagement. “The idea is that there’ll always be art being made here.”
Indeed, the new center, the largest tenant in the new Pivot Center for Art, Dance, and Expression, is a means to several ends. It’s primarily a gallery and teaching space, but it also advances parts of the museum’s larger mission to benefit all the people forever.
On one hand, it’s a base for Parade the Circle and other large outdoor offerings such as the Chalk Festival, Winter Lights Lantern Festival, and Studio Go. Its 20,000 square feet afford enough space to make and store puppets, costumes, and other supplies and equipment.
“Having a space for artists to work and keep all their materials is really important,” DePrizio said.
On the other, the Center expands the museum’s footprint on the west side, bolstering a community underserved by the museum but which already enjoys a rich cultural life. Its objective isn’t so much to bestow fine art as to uplift and co-create.
“We’re here to enhance the neighborhood with what the people here want, not what we think they want,” said Stefanie Taub, director of community arts. “We really see this is as an opportunity to participate in this neighborhood.”
This is a goal artist, Old Brooklyn resident, and Puerto Rico native Bruno Casiano said he appreciates. He said he regards the new Center as a gesture of respect and complement to the art of Cleveland’s Hispanic population.
“The connection is there,” Casiano said. “I think it will be fluid and will be accepted by the community.”
Even before the center opens June 12, the work of melding with the community is well underway. All signage is in both Spanish and English, and each of its three large studios along with its lobby has been graced with a mural by a local artist. Four otherwise white walls are now brilliant panoramas, courtesy of Casiano as well as Rafael Valdivieso, Debra Sue Solecki, and Derek Brennan.
Starting this fall, these rooms will host art courses, workshops, and school groups. Some sessions will entail fees, with potential scholarships available, but many offerings will be free. Deprizio said it’s her to goal not to let financial concerns be a hindrance to anyone.
There’s also gallery space, and that, too, has been made more welcoming. A formerly solid wall facing the street now has large windows affording views of the center’s first exhibition, a display of larger-than-life creations called “Parade the Circle: Celebrating 30 Years of Art and Community.” This two-year show opens June 12 and will be free to the public.
“I give great respect for the intention and the follow-through,” Casiano said. “I think it’s a great reach, and I think it’ll be successful.”
This year, sadly, there isn’t a true Parade the Circle. Instead, due to the pandemic, the museum is offering “Parade the City,” a series of installations by eight local artists in neighborhoods around Cleveland.
The hope is that these displays and the new Center, with its focus on an event designed for widespread participation, will generate new interest and feelings of comfort in the University Circle institution, and art in general.
“Our mission is about creating art that is accessible to all,” DePrizio said. “The parade is one of the easiest entry points. We want this to be the opening that leads to people seeing the museum as a place for them.”
The Community Arts Center, 2937 W. 25th St., opens Saturday, June 12. Hours will be 2-7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. For more information and the latest COVID-19 safety protocols, go to clevelandart.org.
Zachary Lewis is a freelance journalist living in Shaker Heights.